School Counselors and the Future of Learning: Q&A with Bill Stiles
Bill Stiles is a program and curriculum specialist at ASA and former school counselor. He holds a Master of Education in School Counseling from Bridgewater State University. Before ASA, Bill served as a counselor at Attleboro High School in Massachusetts.
Why is school counseling the best profession?
Being a school counselor is the best profession because it is beautifully unpredictable. You’ll ride the waves of successes with students and feel deeply for them when a roadblock arises. You will come in with a plan at 7 a.m. and an hour later will have cleared your schedule for the issue du jour. School counselors are the swiss army knives of educational professionals, masterfully performing many tasks at hand, sometimes simultaneously.
Do you have a counselor you’d like to acknowledge past or present?
I would be remiss to not mention my former colleagues in the Attleboro High School guidance department. They are an exceptional group of people who exemplify the best in what the field has to offer. Specifically, I must give a shoutout to the coordinator, Julie Little, for her tact in navigating the difficult balance of daily issues and long-term projects. And to Kelsey Brindley, who is the most organized and data-driven counselor I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
Most dear to me is my mentor from Bridgewater State University, Theresa Coogan, Ph.D., who now works with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Much of who I am as a professional is modeled after her example, and I’m proud of where that has taken me.
How does your role at ASA support school counselors?
As a program & curriculum development specialist, I’m working collaboratively with schools across the state to fine tune middle school programming geared toward career exploration through understanding of self, available options and educational pathways. It supports counselors by giving students information they’ll need to do research in the long run.
I’m proud of the programming we are developing because it is much more focused on “teaching how to fish” rather than “giving the fish.” ASA speaks to “a path for every student” and “a plan for every future,” and we truly live that here. We want to help school counselors who are taking another road to the same destination.
If there was one thing you could tell today’s school counselors, what would that be and why?
You are valued. Sometimes the job can be one where you aren’t noticed unless a problem arises, and that can be tricky. Many may not even know what a school counselor does, but when their student succeeds in areas of previous difficulty or finds that motivating goal, it’s OK to pat yourself on the back.
When you were working as a counselor in schools, what was the greatest challenge to helping students discover careers and different educational paths?
The greatest challenge was time and resources. The frustration of a lack of both combined with my continued passion to help students be proactive about their futures motivated me to find a new way to help, which is what lead me to my current role at ASA. School counselors are consistently being reactive to situations as they arise, in part because school professionals overall are overworked with class sizes and caseloads. The proactive work that school counselors are trained in can be critical to sustained success and growth of positive school culture, but time is the biggest impediment to this.
What advice do you have for counselors today who may face similar challenges?
My advice in all honesty is self-care. I received “The Giving Tree” as a gift from a student one year and it served as a reminder that if I give all of myself without recharging my battery, I would have nothing left to give. Eat lunch in private occasionally (or with your friends in the building), close your office door when you need to take a breath, and when things get hard let somebody know and debrief that situation. I know all of this seems simple, but the simple things are the most easily forgotten.
What do you think the future role of school counselors looks like and how can other education stakeholders support counselors in their work?
I think the future must be the proactive work that includes counseling curriculum around career awareness and other life skills, beginning earlier in school. It looks much more collaborative than what people may expect. School counselors should be engaged in curriculum development for major subject areas. Let teaching peers see their expertise and take some weight off one another. For those that are dually licensed in adjustment counseling, I would add that taking part in health curriculum is critical. None of us can change the tides alone; coming together is how an idea becomes a movement.